Deaf Life15th December 2013

5 year old Claire Koch signs her Xmas Show

The joy of a child's nativity play is combined with stress for some Deaf parents

by Sarah Lawrence

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. It is a time for family, friends, generosity and good cheer. I also love one of the great British traditions at Christmas – the school nativity play or show. For parents and teachers it comes with some stress and anxiety about whose child gets to play which part, the making of outfits and the learning of lines, but by the time of the show, it is invariably a joyous occasion.

However, as a Deaf parent of hearing children I missed out on a lot of the fun, pride and enjoyment experienced by many parents simply because of the additional stress involved because I am Deaf. Before the day of the performance, I was far less able than most parents to help my children learn their lines and the songs.  Little more than toddlers, I can still remember my children not wanting to be embarrassed by me being the only Deaf person in the audience.

They did not want me to make a fuss and they didn’t want me to ask for arrangements to be made for me to enjoy all aspects of the show in the same way other parents could. These were painful times because on the one hand I wanted to attend and be able to enjoy my children’s involvement, but on the other I did not want to make a scene and ‘embarrass’ them! 

One year my daughter was asked to do a signing script which I was more than happy to help her with. It was one of the most enjoyable nativities and felt I was able to do what other parents were able to do with their hearing children with verbal scripts. During rehearsal my daughter was challenged by a teacher of the deaf about some of her signs. Luckily my daughter told her, "my mother cannot be wrong," and she refused to change her signs. I was not aware of this until she recalled the experience when she saw the recent YouTube video of Claire Koch and I hope more and more hearing children with Deaf parents are encouraged to use sign language. 

For several years I ended up doing different things for each of my children and the antics one year totally justified my son’s fears. I had asked the school if they would be providing a BSL/English interpreter so that I could enjoy all aspects of the show. After a fair bit of cajoling, the school finally agreed to provide the interpreter and I turned up for the show in which my son had a leading part with keen anticipation for a good night.

I met the interpreter beforehand and between us we agreed where I would sit and where they would sit and stand. Sadly, sitting and standing to the side of the stage was not acceptable to the teacher who demanded that the interpreter stand well to the side and nowhere near my line of sight for the performance. Despite my attempts to explain, the head teacher steadfastly refused to have the interpreter position themselves where there was any chance that it would be a distraction for other parents in the audience.

Consequently, I was left with a choice. Do I look at the stage and the performance but view it as a silent play, or do I look at the interpreter and know what is being said but not have a clue what was going on.  I chose to have eye contact with my son!

Reflecting on my own anxieties in attending nativity plays, I was warmed by the YouTube video from Deaf American Sign Language user Lori Koch, showing her 5 years old daughter’s performance at the school Christmas pageant. Whilst the other children sang and moved in the way they had been taught, thoughtful and considerate Claire Koch signed the songs to her Deaf parents.

Exposed to American Sign Language since birth, sign language is Claire’s first language, and I can only imagine how proud and overwhelmed her parents were. I certainly enjoyed every second of it.

Perhaps, the idea will catch on and we will see more children of Deaf parents signing performances to them in the future.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Deaf Life

15th December 2013